By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind
I see it happen all the time – people who have worked from home for years end up getting office jobs, and immediately start stressing about how their beloved pups are going to handle being home alone for 8+ hours a day.
Before I give you some tips on helping your dog with that transition, I’ll let you in on a little secret – there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll miss your dog more than she’ll miss you. 🙂
With that having been said, here are some tips to help you acclimate your dog to lengthy absences.
Start crate training. If your dog isn’t already crate trained, or needs a refresher, now is the time to work on that. Crate training is a great tool for creating boundaries and security for both of you. I know people sometimes balk at the idea of having their dogs crated for extended periods of time, but keep in mind that the average dog sleeps 16-18 hours a day. As long as the crate is appropriately sized — allowing room to stand up, stretch, get a drink of water, and move about a bit before going back to sleep — it’s a great tool.
Keeping your dog crated while you are gone also mitigates any destructive tendencies; it also provides a safe environment for other people who may need to enter your home while you are gone, like the dog walker, maintenance personnel, housecleaners, etc.
If you are confident that your dog will accept your schedule change without needing the crate, then you can simply apply the schedule framework as outlined above and let her be free-range while you are away. Generally speaking, this isn’t an option I would recommend for puppies or younger dogs. Another option is to put your dog into a single area of the house, such as a kitchen or mudroom, that can be blocked off from the rest of the house. Just make sure you dog-proof the room by securing cabinets and putting food or hazardous substances well out of reach.
(Need some ideas on how to keep your pup’s boredom at bay? Check out this article from TAILS magazine.)
Keep a consistent schedule. Once the crate training is well underway, start working on a very consistent schedule for your dog. Make sure she gets her first walk within the same half hour every morning. Then, take her out again in the afternoon during the same time period and for the same duration that a dog walker will be walking her. Figure out the most likely time that you will get home from work, and walk her within approximately that same half hour every day. What you’re doing here is creating consistent expectations for interaction and for bladder/bowel control, which will provide a reliable framework for your dog’s days.
Extend the crate time. While you are working on the consistent walk/potty schedule, gradually start crating your dog for longer and longer periods during the day. I find that it’s easier for dogs to get used to crating if they can still see you (which is why I prefer wire crates over plastic travel crates). Then, start going out for longer blocks of time when she is crated – 10 minutes the first day, 15 minutes the second, 20 minutes the third, etc. If she is prone to separation anxiety when you leave the house, distract her with a stuffed Kong right before you leave, and have the crate positioned or partially covered so that she can’t see you walking out the door.
No fussing! Don’t make a big deal of leaving the house. Put your dog in the crate, give her the Kong if necessary, and go out. Don’t stage an emotional scene every time you leave or come back; it’s disruptive to the dog, and will set her up for failure. If it’s not a big deal to you, it won’t be a big deal to her.
Consistency is key. The key to an easy transition is consistency and calm behavior on your part. I almost always find that the humans have a much harder time in this situation than the dogs. However, if your dog doesn’t seem to be adjusting to the new situation within a reasonable amount of time (say, a couple of weeks), or if you feel that her behavior is getting worse, schedule an appointment with your vet and/or a highly regarded trainer. Some dogs just naturally have more anxiety than others, and it’s always best to consult with a professional to make sure you are aware of all of your medical and behavioral treatment options.
Unless you have a dog that is completely trained to use indoor pee pads, you’ll want to find a good dog walker. Ask your friends and neighbors for recommendations, and set up a couple of trial walks. It’s important for your dog to have a chance to get used to this strange person, and you’ll want enough time to make sure that the walker and the company are the right fit for you as well as your dog.
If you absolutely hate the idea of leaving your dog home alone all day, then consider doggy daycare. This is another area where you’ll want to give yourself ample time to find the perfect situation for your pup. Every daycare/boarding facility has a different vibe and clientele mix, and taking your shy elderly shih tzu to a place that specializes in day-long puppy playgroups is going to backfire. Ask about their professional affiliations (such as IBPSA) and accreditations, and don’t be afraid to try out a few different places before making a commitment.
Did you know that the best service providers are the ones that make staff training and education a priority? To see some of the things that every professional dog care specialist should know, check out the curriculum on FetchFind Monthly Pro!